SALMON ARM – Might have been the mouth-watering lasagna his billet mom fed him late Friday afternoon. Perhaps all the family and friends from Vernon made a difference.
Rookie Colton Thibault wasn’t quite sure why he was a rock star in the Salmon Arm SilverBacks’ 6-1 stuffing of the Vernon Vipers before 980 B.C. Hockey League fans at the Shaw Centre.
Thibault, an 18-year-old forward, scored twice, and could have had more, killed penalties like he was Pavel Datsyuk, won foot races all over the rink and blocked a handful of shots. He had first star nailed down early in the first period.
“I was flying tonight,” said Thibault. “I don’t know what it was. It might have been the home opener and being excited to play my hometown team. I don’t know, but it was fun. I felt really good before the game. My legs felt strong and I just went out there and had some fun.”
Thibault netted his first BCHL snipe at 8:42 of the first period, banging in a rebound in front of buddy and Viper goalie Danny Todoyschuk. Taylor Maruya and Thomas Plese drew assists. Thibault hit the crossbar a few minutes later.
“He was an absolute man on a mission tonight,” said SilverBacks’ head coach Troy Mick, of Thibault. “The reason I went after him was because I saw him play for North Okanagan Knights in the playoffs. Forget about regular season because I really like the guys that can step it up in the playoffs and he was a man amongst boys in the playoffs. He showed tonight why he’s gonna be a Division 1 hockey player.”
Vernon minor hockey grad Alex Gillies also bagged two goals for the Gorillas, giving him four in three games. Connor Brown-Maloski, on a penalty shot, and Jack Berezan completed the Salmon Arm offence.
Matty Saharchuk, Thibault’s former North Okanagan teammate, replied for the Vipers.
The SilverBacks outworked the Vipers and took advantage of some sloppy play by the depleted Vernon defence.
“We were persistent,” said Thibault. “We didn’t give up on the puck and we kept pucks down low and when we were in our end, we chipped the puck out and beat them to the puck, and in the neutral zone, did the same thing.”
The teams met again Saturday for Vernon’s home opener at Kal Tire Place.
The Vipers lost their captain, Ryan Renz, midway through the first period after he sprained his right ankle in a rousing fight with Salmon Arm captain Blake Box near centre ice. Renz, a 20-year-old defenceman, had thrown a clean check on Berezan against the side boards. Renz and Box squared off last year as well.
Vernon was also missing 20-year-olds Josh Bryan (D) and Colton Sparrow (F) with shoulder injuries.
“It’s definitely a step back when you lose a game like that, but it’s early,” said Vipers’ head coach Jason Williamson. “There’s lots of positives where guys are getting better. Obviously, having three 20-year-olds banged up already doesn’t help our new group, but that’s gonna make us better in the end, I hope.”
Alternate captain Mason Blacklock said the Vipers sagged after giving up goals instead of battling harder to respond. He’s being positive about the injuries.
“Those are key guys that we’re missing, but that creates a lot of opportunities for other guys that wanna get some ice time and show that they can play in those roles too. Guys gotta step up and not only play for themselves, but for the guys that are injured.”
Mick, who has two Royal Bank Cup rings from his Viper coaching days, was stoked about a dream opening night under new ownership.
“We got some real good saves. Angus Redmond played really well tonight and I thought our penalty kill was outstanding. They bumped the puck around. They’ve got a very skilled hockey team, there’s no question about it. Tonight, the pucks bounced our way.”
Skyscraper d-man Spencer Morse (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL) made his Viper debut and unfortunately mishandled the puck at centre which led to Thibault’s breakaway 3-1 goal with 6:20 left in the second period and Vernon pushing hard for the 2-2 equalizer.
Brown-Maloski was pulled down by Viper d-man Michael Statchuk on a breakaway and beat Todyschuk five-hole on the ensuing penalty shot at 9:04 of the third period, making it 4-1.
SNAKE BITES: Statchuk hit iron with a rocket point blast and Viper centre Liam Coughlin, who has moves like Jagger, struck the post on a backhander, late in the first period…Todoyschuk bailed out Coughlin with a huge save off Maruya after Coughlin was stripped of the puck at the ringette line in the second frame…The feisty Berezan blindsided Viper forward Michael Iovanna in open ice and drew an interference penalty. Berezan is the son of former NHL centre Perry Berezan, now an investment advisor in Calgary…The Vipers visit the West Kelowna Warriors Tuesday night…Former Viper Braedan Russell collected four assists as the Surrey Eagles shaded the Langley Rivermen 5-4 Friday at South Surrey Arena.